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Close up image of clipping thick toenail

Toenail Thickening: Causes and How to Manage

Toenail anatomy is a funny thing, and it can be alarming when our nails don’t look quite right. Toenail thickening is an unsightly occurrence that affects your nail health and overall foot health. Factors like aging can cause it, but thick toenails are also directly linked to trauma and certain foot conditions and fungal infections, like fungal toenails.

If you notice bizarre toenail thickness, you should seek treatment and guidance from your foot specialist. But learning the potential causes will also give you some much-needed insight. Today’s article will tackle what you need to know about toenail thickening. 

Close up of severely thick toenail big toe

Causes of Toenail Thickening

Thick toenails are not usually a sign of something sinister. However, in some cases, they can become painful if you ignore them. They could also potentially be a sign of a chronic illness. Here are some of the most common causes of toenail thickening:

Fungal Nail Infections

The University of Michigan notes that toenail thickening can occur when you contract a contagious infection caused by a group of fungi called Dermatophytes — the same fungi that cause athlete’s foot. Toenails may also appear “crumbly,” misshapen, brittle and have a yellow-green tint.


The National Library of Medicine explains that thickening is a common nail alteration in the elderly. The New York Times attributes this to a drastic decrease in nail growth rates in older people. As a result, nail cells called onychocytes start to pile up. This happens much more often in toenails than in fingernails. 

Trauma and Injury

When trauma disrupts and damages the toenail bed and nail matrix, it can lead to abnormal nail growth. Trauma to the toenail can result from various causes, such as stubbing or jamming your toe, dropping a heavy object on it, or repetitive pressure from ill-fitting footwear.

Psoriatic arthritis/Psoriasis

Psoriasis nails are one of the many symptoms people with this condition must deal with. People with this illness are also more vulnerable to fungal infections. Moreover, genetic and immune system factors can affect nail health. 

Ingrown Toenails

On their own, ingrown toenails do not cause thickness. However, untreated ingrown nails are vulnerable to infection the more they grow and pierce the skin. This can cause subsequent inflammation and toenail damage that disrupts the nail environment and causes cell build-up. 

Thick toenail curling inward

Managing Toenail Thickening

Treating thick toenails involves matching the cause to the appropriate plan of action.

If you have toenail fungus, you will likely need prescription anti-fungal pills or ointment. You may also be able to use anti-fungal creams or powders. It is very important to see a chiropodist for treatment if you have toenail fungus, as toenail fungus is notoriously stubborn and persistent and rarely an be treated without seeing a foot specialist.

But practicing vigilant foot care to make sure a fungal infection doesn’t become a chronic problem is equally important.  Always make sure you wear shoes in contagious spaces like public pools and showers, avoid sharing socks, shoes and nail clippers, keep your feet clean and dry, and wear breathable footwear.

Using ointment to help curled, thick toenail

If toenail trauma is your issue, you should protect your toenail while your injury heals. Trim it carefully or seek help from a chiropodist if it’s too difficult. Be sure to practice foot hygiene at the same time. As your injury heals, the nail should gradually return to normal thickness with time.

If your toenails are thickening due to aging, simply practicing nail care and buffing and smoothing the rough surfaces can help you manage them.

In severe cases where chronic illness and pain is present, you may need injections or a minor surgery to remove your thick toenail.

Proper nail care may help prevent toenail thickening

Concerned About Thickening Toenails? Give us a Call!

Your toenails are a major component of your overall foot health – don’t neglect them any longer! Even though most thick toenails can revert to normal, a chiropodist can help you achieve this faster or detect a more serious problem! 

Contact us at 416-769-FEET (3338) or use our online booking form to book an appointment!

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Carolina Charles

Patient Relation Coordinator (She/Her)

If you’ve been to the clinic before, chances are you had the pleasure of meeting Carolina! Carolina’s daily goal is going above and beyond to make sure patients are always completely satisfied. Having worked in the podiatry industry for 22 years, Carolina brings a wealth of knowledge pertaining to client service, insurance policies, and procedures.​ She steers the ship to make sure everything runs smoothly on the daily. Carolina is known for spicing up every outfit with her signature costume jewellery.